He wasn’t lying.
Some of the Hawks had snuck into Crescent school the night before. Our main hallway was now scattered with their fliers. Their title read: Find Mystery Girl.
I could barely contain my anger as I ripped the pieces of paper from the metal locker doors.
Around me, I could hear the conversation of a few junior girls.
“Who the hell is she?” Michelle Kewall, a girl Jace had dated for two weeks, asked. She had short hair and an obsession for Trigonometry.
“Do you think she goes here?” were the passing words of two student counsellors.
“I bet you she’s a slut,” Sasha Grason said spitefully.
“I bet you she’s a tease,” her best friend, Holly Tale, replied.
Sasha and Holly gave me a once over as they passed by. They were hugging their folders to their chests and their matching blonde hair swished as they moved. I felt naked under their gaze.
The “Terror Twins” was the name our school gave them. They were our best cheerleaders. I knew for certain that Seth had dated one of them once; I just couldn’t remember who.
“Yeah, she’s a tease.” A few soccer boys passed me and I caught the words.
Jake Ford, a guy who sat next to me in Calculus and occasionally slipped me the answers, said, “She’s gotta be worth something to get A.J’s boxers in a twist.”
He high-fived the other members of the soccer team after he said that.
It took the combined strength of both Jace and Wren to force me into to class that morning.
Classes were unbearable. Every few minutes, someone’s phone would go off with new updates on the ‘Mystery Girl.’ At one point, somebody had barged into our English class to announce that A.J was appearing on a local radio station to send out a plea for help.
A radio station.
By third period, the teachers had accepted that this was going to go on all day. They stopped confiscating peoples’ phones.
The urge to run out of the school, get in my car, and never stop driving hadn’t left by lunchtime. Not even Seth’s beautiful smile, as he waited by my locker, could untie the anxious knot in my stomach.
As he walked me to lunch I was highly sensitive to the stares we were getting. Wherever Seth went, eyes followed. I knew that. But today it was different. I couldn’t help but feel that someone, somewhere, must know the truth.
This didn’t count as cheating, right?
We sat where we normally sat. The table in the centre of the cafeteria was typically reserved for the racing team, but this often just equated to Seth and his friends: Justin, Toby and Ethan. I sat down with them now as Seth went to queue up for both of us.
Seth always insisted on queuing to buy me food. He was one for rituals, and this had been one of ours ever since we’d started dating. Seth was a gentleman.
“So, Nora,” Justin said through a mouthful of food. His cropped woolly hair hung over his face, “Who do you think Mystery Girl is?”
I tried to feign disinterest. “Not you too, Justin.”
“Hey,” Justin stuck his greasy hands up in the air, “Sue me for enjoying the cheesier things in life. So, do you think he’s in love, or not?”
I tried to swallow my water without spitting it out. This day was getting worse and worse. If anything else happened, I was going to need to start faking head colds. I tried to remember if we still had a nurse’s office.
“Somebody told me she’s a college student,” Ethan continued. He was a junior and Justin’s younger brother. They shared the same hairstyle and were virtually identical. The only thing that was different was the colour of their eyes. Whilst Ethan’s were blue, Justin’s were green.
“Nah,” Toby piped in, “Apparently, she’s a junior cheerleader from Northview. I heard that A.J’s called off the search party.”
I looked at Toby intently, “Who told you that?”
Toby shrugged out, “Chase Evans,”
The name sent a shiver down my spine. The guy went to Northview and was on the same racing team as A.J.
Chase was practically his wingman.
I tried to hide my disgust. I couldn’t believe that Alex Carter had started hanging out with our old-school bully. He really had changed, hadn’t he?
Ethan swore and said, “Dude! You better not tell Seth you’ve been talking to Chase. You know what he said about talking to Hawks.”
Toby shook out his strawberry-blonde hair and shrugged, “Yeah, but its Chase. The guy doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together.”
“The race is less than a month away, man,” Justin reprimanded.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Toby waved it away. “But the important question is whether this girl is hot or not?”
Ethan made a sound from the back of his mouth, “It’s A.J, man, c’mon. The guy’s not going to settle for anything less than a nine.”
I coughed to disguise the lump that was settling in my throat. Normally, I was used to this kind of boy talk, but today it felt wrong.
Just then, Seth sat down next to me and handed me a plate of pasta. He planted a kiss on top of my forehead before giving me cutlery.
He made a motion towards Ethan and asked, “What the hell is he talking about?”
“A.J’s girl,” Justin filled Seth in. “We’re discussing whether she’s hot or not.”
Seth shrugged and began playing with his food. “Probably not. A.J has no standard when it comes to girls. She’s been around the block a few times.”
My heart contracted painfully. I stared at the food on my plate and realised that I was no longer hungry.
Seth continued, “But I want to know who she is. If she goes to this school, then she’s dead meat. Anyone associated with A.J is a traitor.”
I knew that Seth was pissed about A.J breaking into the school last night. This was his territory. He’d gotten a lift into school with Justin, so I hadn’t been there to witness his reaction.
The rumour was that Seth had gone over to Northview and keyed A.J’s car. I’d have to corner him soon and ask him if that was true.
Seth faced me head on. “Hey, Nora, did you see A.J talking to anyone outside Macey’s diner? You were there that night.”
I twiddled with my hair nervously.
Wren and Jace had convinced me that this would all just blow over in the next couple of days. But from the way everyone was talking about it, I wasn’t so sure.
“Nope,” I squeaked out.
I looked into my lap and hoped no one could tell how quiet my voice had become. “I parked too far away.”
“Huh,” Seth muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. He forked at his pasta and placed my left hand in his. “That’s strange.”
“Nora Piece, do not walk away from me!” I flinched at the sound of Wren’s voice.
Jesus, she sounded like a parent.
I refused to stop walking though. Instead, I purposely made my way towards the nearest restroom. I’d lock myself in a bathroom stall if I had to.
I entered the nearest cubicle. Pressing my head against the back of the door, I tried to breathe in deeply.
I knew Wren and Jace would be waiting for me outside the restroom. They wouldn’t go to class without me. They wouldn’t let me go anywhere unchaperoned today.
I had a tendency to go a bit crazy when I found myself in situations like this. I once scored detention after school for a whole month to stop someone I didn’t even know from getting into trouble. They broke into a janitor’s closet and I felt so guilty for telling on them that I eventually said I made it up.
I know. Talk about pathetic.
“I mean, who the hell is she?”
I saw a pair of heels stop in front of the bathroom stall I was hiding behind.
“Do we know her? There’s no one in this town I don’t know.”
I hit my head against the wall in frustration.
Seriously, Nora, I thought to myself. Of all the places to try to hide, you chose the girls’ restroom on the second floor? Do you have any idea how much gossip is spread in this room alone?
Scare pregnancies, cheating boyfriends, you name it. Reputations have been lost and gained in this place, and Stephanie Hayes was the girl most responsible for all of that.
If I was correct, that was her voice now.
The girl had straight As, a perfect set of white teeth, and platinum blonde hair. She was the Student Body President and the volleyball captain. She had an obsession for wearing blue and was pretty much a walking-talking-living nightmare.
Hell, even Seth was scared of her.
“Is she still trending?” Stephanie asked.
I tried to lower my breathing so that she wouldn’t know someone else was in here.
“There’s a local news broadcast going on now…” I swore under my breath as one of Stephanie’s minions replied to her.
This wasn’t going to quiet down at all.
I was so screwed.
I wonder if my parents would let me move in with Luke at college. Maybe I could finish off my semester there.
Stephanie sighed dramatically. “I want you to find out who she is. If she’s a threat, I need to subdue her.”
A threat. A threat to what? A.J didn’t date girls from Crescent. That was a known fact.
And subdue? Really? What was this: a black ops mission?
Just at that moment, I felt my leg give away and my body slam into the door behind me.
Stephanie and her minion gave a small gasp.
I felt sick to my stomach as Stephanie called out, “Is somebody there?”
I internally cursed myself.
Seriously, me and my damn feet. For our second date, Seth had taken me to a bowling alley. I’d fallen flat on my butt twice that night. I was surprised he even wanted to speak to me after that.
Knowing that there was nothing I could do, I opened the cubicle door and came out to face her.
Stephanie’s eyes bulged as she realised who I was.
The irritation in her voice was gone as she said in a silky voice, “Nora! Hi, how are you? How are classes going? Did you have a good summer?”
I was kind of used to how much schmoozing people did. It was the result of dating Seth. I didn’t trust Stephanie though. Not one bit.
I made the effort of washing my hands, even though we both knew I didn’t need to.
Stephanie raised her eyebrows as I closed the faucet of the tap.
“Not pregnant, are you?” she asked.
I swallowed a cough and replied nervously, “No. Why would you say that?”
I stepped away from her and made my way towards the exit.
Stephanie could tell how uncomfortable I was, and as if to rub salt into the wound, she said, “I hope you’re not still angry with me?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes trailed the floor and I tried not to clench my fists. Her minion, somewhere to my right, giggled.
“No, not at all,” I replied tersely.
Stephanie smiled an ice-cold smile and she began to apply her lipstick again. It was a glossy baby pink colour. She said in a light voice, “Because if he was my boyfriend, I’d want to know if he was cheating on me.”
But you didn’t have to tell the whole school about it.
I was the last one to find out.
Even Wren and Jace wouldn’t tell me.
I was just about to leave the restroom when Stephanie called out, “Hey Nora, did Seth tell you who Mystery Girl is? I figured since he lives with A.J he might know.”
I blinked once and then plastered on my largest fake smile. “No. He doesn’t know.”
“Shame,” Stephanie shrugged and she began to fix her hair in the mirror.
I prayed that Stephanie would never, ever find out that I had been the one to talk to A.J that night. She’d make everyone believe that A.J and I hooked up in the backseat of my car.
“I’m sure we’ll find out soon,” Stephanie replied lightly. “I’ll make sure of it.”
We were sitting in Calculus class when the speakers came on.
They screeched for a few seconds and then there was a muffling sound, as if the microphone was being moved around.
Mr. Peters, our Calculus teacher, stood up from the desk and made a motion with his hand, “I didn’t know the principal was making an announcement!”
He was flustered at the best of times. He was red-faced, late for everything, and was always wearing ties that were out of place.
The voice on the announcer was definitely not the principal’s. It was deeper and younger. I could hear the sound reverberating down the school hallways.
I’d heard that voice before.
I began to squirm in my seat.
He made an exaggerated sigh and continued, “I know you’re here.”
Jesus, why isn’t anyone doing anything? Couldn’t they turn the announcer off?
I desperately searched around the room for an exit. I’d stop him myself if nobody else would.
A.J spoke out. “I’ve searched through Facebook, Tinder, hell, I even searched through Myspace. Do you have any idea how many girls’ faces I’ve looked at for three days?”
My phone buzzed in my front pocket. As I read the message, I felt the urge to jump out of the window:
Luke: Is everything okay? Facebook is going crazy. Any news on Mystery Girl?
I closed my eyes for the briefest of seconds.
Luke went to college four and a half hours away.
The line crackled for a couple of seconds before A.J said, “This is your last chance, princess. You can do this the easy way, and walk your cute little butt over to the principal’s office. Right. Now. Or you can do this the hard way.”
What on God’s earth had happened to the principal? How had he gotten into the office undetected?
Under any other circumstances, I would probably congratulate the guy on sticking it to the man…
“Two minutes, princess,” A.J said sternly. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
Around me, a series of animated conversations had begun. People were on their phones; others were anxiously scanned the room for any sign of someone about to get up.
I folded my arms and hoped against all hope that I was calling A.J’s bluff. I refused to move. I watched the hands on the clock tick and tick.
I heard Justin shout from the corridor, “There’s no one out here, Seth!”
“Keep checking!” Seth called back. “I’ll check corridor B.”
My heart contracted painfully. There was no way I could get up now, even if I wanted to. I couldn’t deal with coming face to face with Seth on an empty corridor on my way to the principal’s office.
Why was it that everywhere A.J went, drama followed?
The guy should come with a hazard warning.
When A.J’s voice came back on the speaker, it was menacing. “Two minutes is up, princess, and I’m staring at an empty office.”
He tutted, “I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way then.”
There is no hard way, there is no hard way, there is…
“Look out the window, princess,” A.J said.
A surge of people in the classroom rushed over to the windows. Even Mr Peters was standing on his desk trying to get a better look.
“I have every exit covered. The Hawks will stop any girl from leaving the school.”
A. J laughed. “I guess I’ll be seeing you soon.”
A moment of paralysis overcame me.
“Oh, and Seth…thanks for keying my car.”
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